In the last days of a loved one’s life we may find ourselves focusing on remembering every last detail, knowing it may be one of the last moments that we get to experience with that person. However, this is a bittersweet endeavour as our loved ones may not be how we want to remember them, the effects of cancer may have changed their body and in some cases their mind.
So traumatic is losing someone in this way that our brain reacts by encoding these memories very strongly. This is because our brain is trying to keep us safe. It recognises how scary this situation is and wants to remember everything about it so if you ever enter a situation again that contains any element of that memory – be it smells, sounds, emotions, sights – it can warn you to leave.
This is why distressing memories may pop into your mind even when you don’t want them to. These are called intrusive memories and they are extremely common in bereavement.
People often express concerns that they may never be able to remember the good memories because all they seem to have are the memories from the illness.
Remember, the good memories are not gone. Our brains have evolved to prioritise threat and danger and while these memories remain very distressing our brain will continue to remind us of them.
Over time if we choose not to avoid these memories our brain will eventually stop reminding us and allow us access to happier memories.
If you are experiencing intrusive memories on a regular basis or are extremely distressed by them then contact us for more information and we can point you in the direction of the right support for you. You can also read more about experiencing intrusive memories here; https://www.thelossfoundation.org/nightmares-and-flashbacks/
For more details about our groups and events visit our website here.
With best wishes,
Dr Kirsten Smith